Category Archives: School of Hard Knocks

Don’t Give Up

Never count me out . . .

I am famously stubborn. My family and friends (and a few frenemies) will attest to that fact. However, the past year was so difficult that I couldn’t think well enough to write. It took all my concentration just to do the things which were required by my jobs.

During the past couple of weeks, I have received encouragement from an unexpected source: my neglected plants.

Last November, I put most of my plants in the garage, but I watered them hardly at all until a week ago. This poor arrowhead philodendron seemed completely lifeless, but look at it now. I cut away all that had died, put it on the back porch, watered it often, and voilà!

The same is true of this poor pothos plant.

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The spider plants are recovering as well.

The fact that I returned the plants to the back and front porches shows that I had not completely given up on them. I hoped there was a spark of life there, so I nurtured it. I gave it what it needed: sunlight and water.

God does that with us. My life verse is Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ Who strengthens me.”

When I am ready to quit, God gives me what I need. He gives me strength. He nurtures me.

II Corinthians 5:7 says, “We live by faith, not by sight.” What a breath-taking statement! Had I gone by the appearance of the plants, I would have thrown them out, thinking they were dead. They weren’t. When I treated them as if they were alive, they revived.

I was like those plants. I was depressed, and I had to fight to plaster a smile on my face, but God is always good. He did not give up on me. He did not let me quit. He’s still working on me.

Another applicable principle is that pruning often helps a plant that looks dead. I cut the dead growth away so that it would not take energy from the plant. John 15:2 says, “”Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit.”

God pruned me during the past year. I still have things He wants me to do. I have fruit to bear, books to write, music to play, and children to teach.

He isn’t finished with me yet, and He isn’t finished with you either.

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Goals

Never Give Up

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During these last days of 2016, I have been evaluating my progress towards my goals for the year.

I did lose forty pounds, and I’ve kept the weight off during the holidays. That’s a large check. Yay, me!

However, I wanted to publish two books, and I have yet to publish even one. Yes, I finished writing Understanding Elizabeth, but I’m in the editing process.

Just as the verses say, it’s time for me to forget what I have not achieved and focus on my goal: to publish the book. Dwelling on my failure will only bog me down and defeat me.

Instead, I need to look ahead. Eyes forward. A new year is coming.

I will pass that finish line soon. In fact, I already have an idea for the book that will follow Understanding Elizabeth.

As soon as I hit the publish button on KDP, I will start writing and posting Mr. Darcy’s Dog Tale on BeyondAusten.com.

Happy 2017 to all of you! What are your goals for the new year? If you have no target, you won’t hit it.

Sifting Through Stuff

Deep within is an inner pack rat longing for expression...

Deep within me is an inner pack rat longing for expression…

Cue the theme song for TLC’s show Hoarding…

If it even has a theme song. I can never watch long enough to tell.

Because that show makes me nervous. Does my house resemble TLC’s photo? Um, no.

And yes. Because there are closets, stuffed drawers, dark corners. And those little piles beside my bed that grow.

I save too much. What can I say, I grew up collecting antiques. I would love to live in a crooked, rambling old house like Narnia’s Professor Digory Kirke, with all those rooms stuffed with curiosities.

But I don’t.

Anyway, they say the best time to declutter is when you are feeling it, when enough finally becomes enough. I reached this point tonight. I think it had something to do with having a nice fire burning on the hearth. The perfect opportunity to destroy paper clutter, right?

So satisfying, watching stuff burn.

hoarders-haulMy usual style is to attack the entire house like a maniac, tearing out far more than can be put away. Tonight reason prevailed, and I focused only on the area beside my bed. Yeah, those piles I mentioned earlier. I have been trying to be better organized, and today I covered some ground.

Or maybe I should say I uncovered it.

Amid the trash, precious treasures: Jewelry, unearthed in a drawer. A really great photo of my parents. Gift cards, put carefully in a “safe” place (that I promptly forgot about). Ha, and the copyright certificates from the Library of Congress for my Mercy’s Embrace books.

I also found cards sent by dear friends when I was gravely ill. How I enjoyed reading them again!

Is my home now perfect? Not by a long shot. But I’ve made headway in the bedroom. I feel more at ease in here, and that’s worth celebrating.

Next up, my close-top desk. Who knows what lurks inside? The rest of my missing jewelry, I hope.
Laura Hile (1)

Tick-tick-tick. Time for writing class!

Here I am, ready to shop for notebooks.

Here I am, Chai tea in hand, all set to shop for their class notebooks. That’s 6:58 a.m.

In a last-minute turn around Friday, my high school fiction writing class zoomed to life. And here I thought I was going to have 2016-17 off. Nope, it’s a go. Time to introduce the world of commercial fiction writing to a new group of young writers. Hooray!

The students are excited, and so am I. I still don’t know precisely how many I’ll have, but I’ve spent today getting ready. So far the class consists of only guys. Isn’t that great? I’m hoping some of the girls will have an opening in their schedules. I’ll find out Monday.

Truth to tell, I benefit more than than any student. I read the articles aloud along with them; I watch the TED Talks and selected episodes of OPB’s On Point. I enjoy analyzing the movies. And as I add to their notebooks, I again interact with quotations–wise advice from authors who have come before. I need all the reinforcement I can get.

My guys from 2013, in a pathetic "book publicity" attempt

My guys from 2013, in a pathetic “book publicity” attempt

Our class sessions are focused on growth. I attempt to duplicate my own early experiences with fan fiction, in which I fearfully shared my writing with the wide world. Wonder of wonders, I discovered that I could be entertaining. In the same way, I read aloud each student’s story — and their classmates love listening. Even now, former students reminisce about favorite stories. Storytelling is powerful. There’s latent talent, but there’s also skill. And craftsmanship is something that can be learned.

1st-year-1“Somebody’s got to write bestsellers for the next generation,” I tell them. “Why not you?”

Why not indeed.

Former students have told me that this was their favorite high school class.  Truthfully, that’s because of them, not me. “This class is as good as you make it,” I say when we begin in September. And my students never disappoint.

Laura Hile (1)

Dog and Disobedience

This is sweet Prince, who stands in for my childhood dog, Goldie. Photo: Jessica Lyons

This is sweet Prince, a good dog who stands in for my rambunctious childhood retriever. Photo: Jessica Lyons

This year I have some of the silliest 7th grade girls ever. Individually they’re well-behaved, but on breaks? My word. it’s like mob rule in the halls. They scream and shove and tug one another’s hair and play food tag.

Food tag? Maturity, where art thou? So I spent Thursday’s and Friday’s lunch breaks in our classroom. The four offenders sat silent with their food.

Isolation and silence? That’s torture for a talkative girl. The next time they’ll face after-school detention.

Yes, the School of Consequences has a tough curriculum.  I’ve been twelve myself, with many a life lesson learned the hard way.

“Don’t bring Goldie inside.” My parents’ instructions were clear. And you can guess what I did the moment their car was out of sight. Yep. I let the dog in. But what happened next was the real surprise.

Like all dogs in our neighborhood, Goldie lived in the backyard. We never spent much time with her because she was just too unruly. Obedience class? She never learned a thing. The poor girl didn’t have a mean bone in her body, she was simply too friendly. And not very smart.

Enthusiasm was her downfall. A guard dog? Naw. She would jump up and lick an intruder to death. When let in the house she would tear around like a wild animal. Her wagging tail could clear off the coffee table.

So on that fateful evening when we were home alone, Goldie was beside herself with joy. My little brother and I envisioned a nice evening watching television with Goldie curled at our feet. Um, not.

In she ran, tearing through the dining room and bounding into the entrance hall.  Once there, she squatted and produced a large liquid turd right on the carpet. My brother and I just stood there, too horrified to speak.

Einstein-schoolI dragged Goldie out to the backyard, but the mess she’d made remained. My brother was no help; he was too busy laughing. (Plus, he was only seven.) So it was my responsibility to clean up the mess. Never before had I faced such a sickening job.

If my mom wondered where all the paper towels went, she never said. I found the floor scrubber, dragged it out, and figured out how to use it. So much for my evening–and my twelve-year-old bravado!

Here’s hoping my boisterous girls learn to rein it in. Because “Reality Therapy” is a sad way to learn.

Learning by doing…

Photo: Zhao! (Creative Commons Flickr)

Photo: Zhao! (Creative Commons Flickr)

How does one learn to tell a story effectively? My apprenticeship took place in the time-honored School of Hard Knocks. I fell in love with the power of stories through reading books, but basic story skills were built through teaching children.

Children are honest. If they aren’t getting it, if I am not connecting, I will know right away. First comes the fidgeting, and then the faces. Those expressions can be priceless, right? The listeners in this picture are dialed in. Hats of to the storyteller!

I teach middle and high school, and the feedback there is top-notch. For years teens have helped hone my comic timing. Nowadays I can be a terror when crossed, for my students never quite know what I will say.

To illustrate, one hapless 7th grader was talking to a girl at the scoring table recently. Over the top of my reading glasses I gave him the Death Ray Look. “Mr. Smith,” I said, and the rest of the class rustled to attention. They know that tone of voice and waited to see what would happen next.  “I realize that you are irresistible to women,” I said crisply. “But you must resist them. Go sit down.” Amid laughter the poor boy went slinking back to his seat, but smiling too, because my rebuke had included a compliment. Well, kind of.

Photo: Zhao! (Creative Commons Flickr)

Photo: Zhao! (Creative Commons Flickr)

The most challenging audience–and I taught this age group for 12  summer quarters–is the 3-4-5 year-old crowd. I was the one to present the junior church Bible lessons, and I learned to keep 30-40 of them (plus parents and student helpers) in the palm of my hand through dramatic storytelling.

Unexpected special effects helped.  I came up with all kinds of illustrations, raiding the church kitchen and janitor’s closet and my classroom (our Christian school is on the campus) for supplies. Fortunately, when I burned the prophet Jeremiah’s scroll (like King Jehoiakim did), there was not quite enough smoke to cause a problem.

Learning by doing–sink or swim–do or die. When you’re in front of a live audience, you have no choice but to deliver!

So what skills have you learned in the School of Hard Knocks? What new skills are you trying out now?